Saturday, 27 February 2016

Fielnotes and Thoughts Series: Dominik Arkuszewski

Dear Mays members,
today we are happy to welcome Dominik Arkuszewski, from the Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology Institute of the Adam Mickiewicz University (Poland) with this new blog for our series 'Fieldnotes and Thoughts'.

Would you also be interested in writing a piece for the MAYS website?
Click here to learn how!

Enjoy reading!

Embodiment as healing
by  Dominik Arkuszewski, 
Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology Institute, 
Adam Mickiewicz University (Poland)

As Thomas Csordas proposed, the body can be seen as the existential ground of culture (1997). This postulate can have a revolutionary impact on social sciences. Why? The answer lies somewhere between the lived body, embodiment paradigm and senses, particularly the senses of touch (Paterson 2007). As Andrew Strathern claimed turning embodiment in the direction of the senses can lead to the revitalization of ethnography itself (1996: 200). David Howes coined the term "sensual revolution" to elaborate a " ideological move that has turned the tables and recovered a full-bodied understanding of culture and experience" (Pink 2009: 21) Sarah Pink puts her two pennyworth in saying that “it is generally agreed that it is time to attend to the senses” (Pink 2009: 19).

We, as anthropologists, can theorize the body in terms of having/being dialectic or switch to focus on what bodies can do and become. Phenomenologists’ notion of a lived body reveals it as alive, dynamic field of sensations, not just a flesh object deferred to brains’ control. The ambiguity of human experience, where we mutually are and possess the body still remains in the spotlight. The notion of practices, which enable and coordinate the doing, can add a transformative factor to the above. This transformation can be put into healing terms and affect all the body’s dispositions.

The following text describes a research related to my MA thesis. I had spent nearly three years with the taijiquan/qigong group in Poznan, Poland. Firstly as a participant and later as a researcher. The formal orientation of the group is rather vague. In other words, many different approaches (spiritual, martial, psychological or therapeutical) can be distinguished in the course of subsequent meetings. The group was created five years ago by one man and includes 8 to 16 people depending on the season. During the classes taijiquan is presented in a fairly classical way while qigong exercises are taught using more unconventional methods, as I will elaborate below.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Fielnotes and Thoughts Series: Tanja Ahlin

Dear Mays members,

We are happy to welcome Tanja Ahlin and her really interesting blog "Lessons from the field: the importance of being kind". If you are interested in writing a piece for our series 'Fieldnotes and Thoughts', click here!

Enjoy reading!

Lessons from the field: the importance of being kind

by Tanja Ahlin
Doctoral candidate at UvA & ITM/University of Barcelona 

Several months ago I attended a lecture given by a respected senior anthropologist, who was lecturing a class of Master students on the (non)ethical practices in anthropological research. Among his many thought-provoking stories from the field, one particularly resonated with me. The lecturer told of a time when he was trying to find a way to interview a person who had been difficult to reach. After several failed attempts, our lecturer – then a young fieldworker – heard that his potential informant was coming into town in order to attend a funeral of a beloved family member. Upon his arrival, the lecturer approached the grieving man and asked for a meeting. The man refused repeatedly, but our lecturer was persistent. He realized that the time was perhaps not the most appropriate, but he felt strongly that this particular man would provide a valuable piece of information to the mosaic of his ethnographic story. “I was lucky,” concluded our lecturer proudly, “the man was kind to me and he finally consented.”

As an ethnographer, what would you do in such a situation?

I know what I did. During my second fieldwork period in India in 2015, I found myself in a similar circumstance. An informant of mine had just travelled for about twenty-four hours from her home in USA to visit her parents in India. Previously I had only spoken to her on the phone, but I had met and interviewed her parents in person. She came to India because her father was burdened with a serious health condition and I knew the times were rough for the family. At the same time, this lady was one of my most interesting informants and it would be highly valuable for me to see her. So when I learnt of her arrival, I called her and asked for a meeting, but also let her know that the final decision was hers. A few days later I called her again to ask how she had decided. She did not pick up at my first try and I decided to let it go.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Reminder! 7th MAYS meeting call for abstract is still open

Hi all, and a happy new year ;)

Here a reminder of the call for abstracts (max 300 words) for the next MAYS annual meeting in Lisbon.
We look forward to receiving your contributions.

The deadline for abstracts is 7 February 2016.
Hope to see you in Lisbon!

More info here

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Fielnotes and Thoughts Series: Ben Belek

Dear Mays members,

We are delighted to welcome Ben Belek with his sharp new blog for our series 'Fieldnotes and Thoughts'.
Would you also be interested in writing a piece for the MAYS website?
Click here to learn how!

Enjoy reading!

What’s the use?

by Ben Belek
Cambridge University

Ben Belek has recently submitted his doctoral thesis to the Division of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. His research deals with questions concerning emotions, subjectivity and community among autistic adults in the UK. He’s also author and editor of the blog The Autism Anthropologist.


“A doctor and three medical anthropologists – Hans Baer, Michael Taussig, and Arthur Kleinman – are standing by a river. Suddenly they hear the final cries of a drowning man. The doctor jumps into the river and, after battling against the swift current, hauls in and tries to resuscitate the dead man. After a short while another body floats by and the same attempt is made to save it. Another and another comes down stream. Finally it occurs to Hans Baer to head upstream in order to investigate the contradictions in the capitalist mode of production that are responsible for the mass fatalities. Meanwhile Taussig goes off, very much on his own, bushwalking in search of the cryptic message in the bottle that at least one dying man or woman would have had the foresight to send out. Dr Kleinman, however, stays behind at the river bank in order to help facilitate the doctor-patient relationship.” (Scheper-Hughes 1990:189)

How is medical anthropology useful exactly? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself repeatedly during the past couple of months. Incidentally, two months is more or less the time that had passed since I submitted my PhD. So the process seemed to have been this: sign up for a long, difficult and demanding project; work your ass off to complete it, at the expense of mental well-being, the intactness of family life, and (quite likely) future financial stability; and then once it’s over, try and figure out what the hell it was all for.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Fielnotes and Thoughts Series: Jyoti Gupta

Dear Mays members,

We are happy to kick-off the series 'Fieldnotes and Thoughts' with the first contribution by Jyoti Gupta from the University of Delhi. 

With this new initiative we aim at creating a more interactive space on our website for sharing and discussing experiences.

Enjoy reading!

Social advertising and health

by Jyoti Gupta
Department of Sociology
University of Delhi, India 

In the present time, no matter where and by which means you travel the world, advertisements are a common sight. From big hoardings to wall paintings, cosmetics to agricultural products and photographs to line drawings, advertisements are widespread across genres, product categories and styles. Some are made for promotional purposes while some aim to inform people on the evils in society or are made to create a ‘social good’. It is the latter that I delve into for my research project, in order to find answers to the following two questions- first, why and how a particular category of advertisements acquires the prefix ‘social’? Second, does the production process of these advertisements contribute to the making of this category? Following the work of Bruno Latour, I wish to explore the making of this ‘social’ category.

The government of India launches many public service campaigns but I specifically focus on the health sector for many reasons. First of all, the majority of public service campaigns belong to this sector, so it provides me with many options. Secondly, the idea of social advertisement was first introduced in the health sector. Thirdly, my own work experience in the rural health sector was thought to be helpful in understanding the conceptualization and making of the advertisements. I have followed two government run national programmes where one offers a great range of advertisements across media and other persuades audience via emotional engagements by referring to culture and relationships. Certainly a lot depends on the issue/subject regarding which change is to be promoted. Approach for a malaria and HIV campaign would differ.